$4 Million in Funding Is Earmarked to Create SMMNRA Visitor Center
• Historic Structure to Be Refurbished
BY BILL KOENEKER
BY BILL KOENEKER
A long held dream of environmentalists and park supporters cleared one of its first hurdles, when the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy recently approved over $2 million in matching funds for plans creating a Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation visitor center at King Gillette Ranch.
The park is located in the center of the SMMNRA and is jointly owned by the National Park Service, California State Parks, SMMC and the Mountains Recreation Conservation Authority.
Plans call for converting an existing 6900-square-foot stable and courtyard into an interagency visitor center for the NRA.
The visitor center would provide “one-stop visitor information” for all mountain park destinations. The center would include interpretive exhibits and interactive displays.
The NPS has acquired over $2 million from a federal cost share program, which requires a one-to- one match of non-federal funds that were met by the conservancy, for a little over $4 million for design and construction of the facility.
The stable building, which was designed by Wallace Neff and constructed in 1928, is described as in poor condition and has sustained damage throughout. According to park planners, in its current condition, it is not eligible for individual listing on the National Register.
The Gillette Ranch was acquired by several state and federal agencies and, given its central location in the Santa Monicas, was always considered as the ideal location for a visitors center for the SMMNRA. The park is currently open to the public though extensive filming takes place on a regular basis.
The property was once the palatial home of razor baron King Camp Gillette, who commissioned Neff to build him “a paradise on earth, California style.”
The property changed hands on several occasions, with MGM movie director Clarence Brown buying the estate after Gillette’s death. Brown built a private airstrip to fly in movie stars of the era for elaborate Hollywood parties.
However, the property moved into a new era and aura for years afterward when Bob Hope purchased the land and buildings and turned it over to the Catholic Church. It was used as a seminary for years by the Claretian Order of the Church.
In the late 1970s the site was acquired by Elizabeth Clare Prophet’s Church Universal and Triumphant, which then sold it to Soka University.
The buildings and grounds were ultimately acquired by several park agencies and opened to the public in June 2007.
Since the grounds are located almost in the geographic center of the Santa Monica Mountains, park supporters for years coveted the property for a visitors center and offices for both the State Parks agency and the NPS.
However, there were no willing sellers, and for some time proponents tried to figure out ways to wrest the property from private hands.
Following years of a bitter struggle, even including a brief condemnation of the property, Soka University officials in Japan became willing sellers, and a deal was crafted to phase out the school as federal and state officials took over the campus.